Structural neuroplasticity of the superior temporal plane in early and late blindness
Blindness is associated with well-documented changes to the morphometry and function of the occipital cortex. By comparison, its impact on the perisylvian regions in the superior temporal plane (STP) is poorly understood, with many studies reporting null findings on this issue. Here we re-approach this question using a morphometric analysis that relied on fine-scale, manual annotation of 13 sub-regions within the STP and that quantified both univariate and multivariate differences in morphometry. We applied these analyses to both cortical thickness (CT) and surface area (SA) data from congenitally and late blind, as compared to two matched sighted control groups. The univariate analyses indicated that for CT, no region differentiated blind from sighted, and for SA, two regions showed lower values for congenitally blind. Moreover, the multivariate analyses identified more robust signatures of plasticity in blindness. Specifically, pairwise regional correlations of CT values between contralateral regions were significantly higher for both blind groups as compared to sighted controls. A similar pattern for SA data was found for congenitally blind alone. Our findings indicate that blindness strongly impacts STP, resulting in a more coordinated pattern of interhemispheric morphometric development. We discuss implications for theories of language plasticity and models of neuroplasticity in the blind.